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November 17, 2019

New master plan: Tryst with history


November 17, 2019

The new thing in the recently approved master plan of Islamabad is the focus on promoting tourism through preserving historical places of the city.

“The name Islamabad in itself stands in denial of history of the area,” Prof Dr Sajid Awan, Director of National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research (NIHCR),” told ‘The News’ a cup of tea at a ‘dhaba’ opposite NUML, commenting on the topic.

In his traditionally cool and composed style, he said, “Originally, it was to be named New Taxila, which was a suitable name in historical context. The area was adjacent to Taxila and Taxila has a proven history spanning at least 4,000 years.”

Islamabad bears the marks of Buddhism on every corner. The city has many Stupas, a throwback to the times when Buddhist monks would meditate here, he said.

Prof Ahmed Hassan Dani, considered an authority on Gandhara civilisation the world over, had found that the caves over Bari Imam Shrine were also used by Buddhist monks, said Prof Awan. He said Prof Dani had found that bulls and serpents had been carved into those caves by Buddhists over 3,000 years ago.

Similarly, Shah Allah Ditta caves were also used by Buddhist monks long before Shah Allah Ditta. In history books, these caves are known as Buddha caves, he said.

“If you go a bit up in the mountains over these caves, you will find the path trodden by known Afghan invader Shahabudin Ghauri. He passed through this area to conquer the subcontinent. His shrine is in Sohawa, close to Islamabad,” he said.

He said that this area is the home to Gandhara civilisation, one of the oldest in the world, and residents of Islamabad should be proud of history of this city.

Sacred books of Hinduism and Budhism were written here, he said. “We should own our history. It is good that the government has risen to the reality that history of this area should be preserved. But we should swallow the fact that rightists in Ayub regime tried to give a religious colour to history naming the city as Islamabad. Such errors should be rectified,” he said.

He said it is good that the government has named the new airport as Gandhara Airport, which means there is a tendency to put things in right perspective.

He said Gulf countries earn a lot through religious tourism. “If we succeed in preserving historical sites of Islamabad, we will surely earn a lot through internal and external tourism. Only Buddhists will not come here. People from all religions and all parts of the world will come here,” he said.

Syed Zeeshan Ali Naqvi, custodian of Shah Allah Ditta Shrine and deputy mayor of the federal capital, said diplomats and dignitaries from Buddhist and western countries frequent these shrines. “I try my best to host them and give them a touch of Pakistani hospitality,” he said. But the government is reluctant to even build a proper road to these caves, he lamented. The area has very old and historical trees, he said, preserving which is a tough task.

Naqvi is a son of the soil and has a love for mountains and tough terrains of Islamabad. He is a sage voice in the decisions that are made about the federal capital and it should not be ignored if we want to preserve our history.

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